Another hard-to-extinguish on-board blaze of a roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) vessel has pitted the Dutch coastguard in a fierce battle to cool down the Fremantle Highway that has been on fire since July 25, claiming the life of one member of its crew.
US News reported earlier that some of the ship’s crew jumped overboard after the fire started on Tuesday afternoon.
Out of the 21 crew, most were airlifted to safety. Sixteen were hospitalised for burns, broken bones and smoke inhalation.
The carrier, loaded with about 3000 cars, was on its way from Bremerhaven in Germany to Egypt when smoke started billowing from its hull about 27 kilometres north of the Dutch island of Ameland in the North Sea.
Rescue vessels rushed to the scene and have been trying to cool the Fremantle down, but there’s a real risk that the vessel could sink if it takes on too much water.
It is assumed that, as with last year’s February fire of the Felicity Ace near the Azores, in which a ro-ro and about 4000 cars were burnt out before the vessel sank, the Fremantle could be ablaze from a lithium-ion battery that ignited.
This is evident from the white smoke coming off the vessel and the difficulty of extinguishing what appears to be an electrical vehicle battery fire.
The Dutch coastguard has already indicated that the fire will most likely last for days without much luck in salvaging any cargo on board.
Edwin Versteeg, a spokesperson for the Dutch Department of Waterways and Public Works, told US News: “The fire is most definitely still not controlled. It’s a very hard fire to extinguish, possibly because of the cargo the ship was transporting.”
The Fremantle is leased to Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha (K Line) by Shoei Kisen, the same owners of the Ever Given ultra-large container vessel that gained notoriety for getting stuck in the Suez Canal in March 2021.
From an environmental perspective, it is feared that the Fremantle fire could threaten the environmental sensitivity of Ameland, part of the Wadden Island group, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
About four years ago, the largest tidal flats system in the world was the scene of another maritime incident when the MSC Zoe lost 342 containers overboard. Some 3000 tonnes of its spilt cargo washed ashore, necessitating significant salvaging efforts to protect the Wadden Sea archipelago of about 50 islands.
The Fremantle is held in place by a tugboat while firefighting efforts continue.
Recent footage made it appear that the fire, which raged above the vessel’s deck, had been extinguished, although a large plume of toxic smoke streaked downwind.